Director – James Watkins
Cast – Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer, Misha Handley, Lucy May Barker, Shaun Dooley, Mary Stockley, Tim McMullan
Release Year – 2012
Reviewed by John of the Dead
While not initially stoked when I first learned of this remake/adaptation of the 1989 TV film and Susan Hill’s 1983 novel of the same name, I was eventually brought on board the bandwagon when I saw the first trailer for this one. The trailer looked dark, gothic, and like the Hammer films of decades ago that so brilliantly employed atmosphere to sell their work, and I must say that this work of the rejuvenated Hammer Films stayed true to form. This effort also stayed mostly true to the original story, giving us good levels of creepy fun as scares were chosen over gore, and with good direction from Eden Lake director James Watkins and positive usage of Daniel Radcliffe in his first post-Harry Potter role we are given one of the better horror remakes of recent time.
Daniel Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer tagged with the responsibility of traveling to a small village to sort through an old widow’s paperwork at her island-esque estate. After arriving at the remote seaside village he learns that there is much more to the estate than paperwork when he comes face to face with the ghost of a scorned woman terrorizing the locals.
This is one story that I just love. The original novel terrorizes the reader, and based on that novel we have now been given two adaptations that both provided their own usage of the original story to provide good horror. Naturally there are some differences, like name changes, certain details left, and additional ideas thrown in that were not in the original story (changes in the way characters die). Aside from those differences the two films give the same overall storyline, and both result in a good horror experience. In regards to this newest version of the story, adapted by Stardust/Kick-Ass/X-Men: First Class writer Jane Goldman, we are given all of the most important of the original storyline and in well-told fashion. The story paces very well, taking its time but managing to deliver enjoyable scares early on. It does not take long before Arthur Kipps arrives at the small village and begins to suffer the haunting trauma that the townsfolk have suffered for years, and from then on our the scares and jolts never subside for longer than required to move the story. I applaud Jane Goldman, in her first horror writing credit, for giving us mostly well-written scares that were simple yet effective so long as the director does his/her job (more on that later) and not settling for too many cheap gimmicky scares, although there were a few of them. I was not surprised to see a few cheap scares given this is still a PG-13 Hollywood effort, and thankfully did they little to ruin the horror. The usage of the woman in black was positive and reminiscent of the TV movie that preceded it, and we were given more usage of the supernatural than merely the woman in black. The dialogue was great and it made for good character play between all of the characters involved, most of whom were used pretty well and not so much just to take up space. We witness Arthur suffer much hostility from the townsfolk as his very presence brings forth death to their quiet and subtle community, making for good conflict and additional obstacles to stand in his way as he aims to complete his work in a weekend’s time. In addition to the conflict associated with being harassed by a vengeful spirit and the townsfolk we also witnessed Arthur experiencing personal conflict regarding his family. His young son lost his mother during his birth, and Arthur’s job has kept him away from his son during a developmental age where parenting is very important. Of course, there is also the possibility of harm done to his son due to his interactions with the woman in black.
Director James Watkins did a pretty good job executing this piece, with much of his success resulting from his excellent use of dark and gloomy atmosphere. The sets are fantastic, bringing forth a big sense of eeriness throughout the small village that was made even more remarkable during the scenes at the old woman’s estate, an estate surrounded by muddy marshlands that make the place an island when the tide rides in. This atmosphere was essential to providing good horror as it made for many dark shadowy corners for the woman and other ghosts to hide in, and when they made their presence known it usually resulted in something good. The jump scares were so-so, with one of them giving me a nice jolt, but the rest of the scares were simpler yet very effective thanks to Watkins’ execution. Most of the ghosts are CGI, especially the scenes with the woman in black, but surprisingly enough the CGI did not detriment from the film and I suppose made possible some scares that would have been hard to achieve via live-action FX. So, how was Daniel Radcliffe, one of the film’s highest selling points? He did a pretty good job in this piece, as did all of the other actors involved. Long gone was the young boy who grew into a young man while dressing funny and carrying around a magical stick for almost a decade– instead we are given a young solicitor(lawyer) with a lot to lose if he fails to finish the job, and he takes on the woman in black headstrong. I admit it was kind of fascinating to watch him portray such a mature character after playing the same one for a decade, but he managed to sell each emotion in his performance as a veteran actor should – although only a few emotions apply in this case.
Overall, The Woman Black (2012) is a positive adaptation of the esteemed classic novel that much like its TV movie predecessor brings forth a great experience of spooky supernatural horror by focusing on simple but effective scares and a darn good story that will keep you engaged throughout.